Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Another Reminder that Everything is Connected

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway said that Norway would learn from the oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and apply the “lessons learnt”. The opening of new deep-water oil fields was clearly on his mind. In April of 2010, Norway and Russia ended a 40-year dispute with Russia over claims in the eastern Barents Sea in the Arctic. The line delineates fishing and energy sovereign claims.

The reason that this agreement was struck has everything to do with climate change and growing demand. The convergence of increasing demand and better conditions for exploitation, because of climate change, creates a general market thirst for oil. Norway’s oil fields are starting to run down and they hoped these new fields would revitalize the industry.

The spill has put those plans in danger. Environmental safety concerns are naturally now at the top of the list for Arctic drilling. The lesson is however a bit of today and a bit of yesterday. The Norwegians may find more relevance in the cold-water spill of the Exxon Valdez in Alaska than in the warm-water Gulf spill, at least in terms of environmental consequence.

Some environmentalists say the real indicator of the impact of the Gulf spill will be in the nesting patterns of birds that roost in the Gulf and travel north for the summer. Ironically, they may be flying from the Gulf to the Arctic. One day, there may be spills at both their homes. What is the lesson from the Gulf spill that Norway can learn? All we know is that they would like to do better.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Scent of Security Concerns at Copenhagen

The Copenhagen Agreement, unlike Kyoto, is operational from the start. The goal of limiting emissions to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius aims to cut in half the increase in IPCC warming forecasts of about 4 degrees Celsius (A2 scenario). The policy calls for adaptation to meet the challenges that the accepted rise of 2 degrees Celsius poses. There is reason to believe that adaptation the accepted warming will cause social disruptions that may have security implications.

Security concerns are muted but apparent in the Copenhagen agreement. Tucked away in Article 3, is the urgency in “reducing vulnerability in developing countries”. Vulnerability in this context suggests that deteriorating personal security can have multiplier affects, particularly livelihood wars.

A further refinement points to three groups of countries particularly vulnerable: (1) least developed countries, (2) small island developing states, and (3) Africa. This reflects three lines of causal transmission from climate change to vulnerability.
The first area of concern is the least developed country that lacks the resources to adapt. The result could be a failed state or a state that is on the brink of failing. Climate changes are already encumbering many of these countries so this focus ought to start with them in a short-term perspective.

The second factor is the rising sea that may pose an existential threat to some countries, some of whom are in a least developed country status. Adaptation for them is limited insofar as some warming is accepted, accompanied by an inevitable sea level rise. Adaptation for these countries, some of which also have high population growth rates, translates into some orderly process of migration. This process is middle to long-term in scope.

The third area of focus is on Africa, and is largely redundant with the least developed countries. Most other members of this group are in South and Southeast Asia (Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Myanmar, for example). The least developed, African, island countries of Sao Tome and Principe and Cape Verde show up on all three lists so should be the first places for action.

The adaptive response is for developed countries to provide sustainable “financial resources, technology, and capacity-building”. The latter term is broad enough to apply to adaptive counter-measures that relate to security concerns. It is inevitable that climate change projects will increasingly take on cases of existing, erupting, and looming crises that have the potential for conflict.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Global Warming is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

By James R. Lee, Washington Post,Sunday, January 4, 2009; Page B03

The Cold War shaped world politics for half a century. But global warming may shape the patterns of global conflict for much longer than that -- and help spark clashes that will be, in every sense of the word, hot wars.

We're used to thinking of climate change as an environmental problem, not a military one, but it's long past time to alter that mindset. Climate change may mean changes in Western lifestyles, but in some parts of the world, it will mean far more. Living in Washington, I may respond to global warming by buying a Prius, planting a tree or lowering my thermostat. But elsewhere, people will respond to climate change by building bomb shelters and buying guns.

"There is every reason to believe that as the 21st century unfolds, the security story will be bound together with climate change," warns John Ashton, a veteran diplomat who is now the United Kingdom's first special envoy on climate change. "The last time the world faced a challenge this complex was during the Cold War. Yet the stakes this time are even higher because the enemy now is ourselves, the choices we make."

Defense experts have also started to see the link between climate change and conflict. A 2007 CNA Corp. report, supervised by a dozen retired admirals and generals, warned that climate change could lead to political unrest in numerous badly hit countries, then perhaps to outright bloodshed and battle. One key factor that could stoke these tensions is massive migration as people flee increasingly uninhabitable areas, which would lead to border tensions, greater demands for rescue and evacuation services and disputes over essential resources. With these threats looming, the U.N. Security Council held a precedent-setting debate on climate change in April 2007 -- explicitly casting global warming as a national security issue.

Global warming could lead to warfare in three different ways.

The first is conflict arising from scarcity. As the world gets hotter and drier, glaciers will melt, and the amount of arable land will shrink. In turn, fresh water, plants, crops and cattle and other domestic animals will be harder to come by, thereby spurring competition and conflict over what's left. In extreme examples, a truly desiccated ecosystem could mean a complete evacuation of a hard-hit region. And the more people move, the more they will jostle with their new neighbors.

Such displacement can arise either suddenly or slowly. The growth of the Sahara, for instance, took many millenniums; many thousands of years ago, people were slowly nudged out of the inland region of northern Africa and into such great river valleys as the Nile and the Niger. Over time, incremental but prolonged rises in sea levels will also gradually uproot hundreds of millions of people.

But sometimes the displacement happens with shocking speed: Just think of the deadly hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which together drove millions of people to suddenly leave Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. As global warming and population growth increase, we could see far deadlier storms than Katrina. In 1991, a cyclone in Bangladesh displaced 2 million people and killed 138,000.

All this can lead to warfare when it's time for the displaced to find a new home. For most of human history, they could at least theoretically do so in unclaimed lands -- a sort of territorial pressure valve whose existence tamped down conflict. But today, this reservoir of vacant turf no longer exists, except in the least hospitable parts of the planet. So when the displaced start eyeing currently inhabited areas, expect trouble -- and the bigger the displacement, the bigger the fight.

The second cause of the coming climate wars is the flip side of scarcity: the problems of an increase in abundance. Suppose that global warming makes a precious resource easier to get at -- say, rising temperatures in northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia make it easier to get at oil and gas resources in regions that had previously been too bone-chilling to tap. (A few degrees of change in temperature can transform a previously inhospitable climate.) But what happens if some tempting new field pops up in international waters contested by two great powers? Or if smaller countries with murky borders start arguing over newly arable land?

Finally, we should also worry about new conflicts over issues of sovereignty that we didn't need to deal with in our older, colder world. Consider the Northwest Passage, which is turning into an ice-free corridor from Europe to Asia during the summer months. Canada claims some portions of the route as its own sovereign waters, while the United States argues that these sections lie within international waters. Admittedly, it'd take a lot of tension for this to turn into a military conflict, but anyone convinced that the United States and Canada could never come to blows has forgotten the War of 1812. And not all this sort of resource conflict will occur between friendly countries.

Other kinds of territorial quarrels will arise, too. Some remote islands -- particularly such Pacific islands as Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tonga, the Maldives and many others -- may be partially or entirely submerged beneath rising ocean waters. Do they lose their sovereignty if their territory disappears? After all, governments in exile have maintained sovereign rights in the past over land they didn't control (think of France and Poland in World War II). Nor are these new questions far away in the future. The first democratically elected president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, is already planning to use tourism revenue to buy land abroad -- perhaps in India, Sri Lanka or Australia -- to house his citizens. "We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades," he told Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The net result of these changes will be the creation of two geopolitical belts of tension due to global warming, which will dramatically shape the patterns of conflict in the 21st century.

First, politics will heat up along what we might call the equatorial tension belt, a broad swath of instability around the planet's center. This belt will creep southward, deeper into Africa, and extend far into central Asia.

Second, a new tension belt will develop around the polar circles. In the short term, the main problems will arise in the Northern Hemisphere, but later in the 21st century, the area around the South Pole may also see increasing security strains as countries rush to claim and develop heretofore frozen areas. If the equatorial tension belt includes mostly poor, developing countries fighting over survival, the new polar tension belt will draw in wealthy, developed countries fighting over opportunity.

This is, admittedly, a glum view of the future. But we can still avoid the new hot wars -- or at least cool them down a bit. For starters, we should redouble our efforts to slow down global warming and undo the damage humanity has already done to the environment. Every little bit helps, so by all means, hassle your senator and recycle those bottles.

Beyond that, we need to get our heads around the idea that global warming is one of the most serious long-term threats to our national and personal security. For the next two decades or so, the climate will continue to change: Historic levels of built-up greenhouse gases will continue to warm the world -- and spin it toward new patterns of conflict. So we need to do more than simply reverse climate change. We need to understand and react to it -- ordinary people and governments alike -- in ways that avoid conflict. Over the next few years, we may find that climate-change accords and peace treaties start to overlap more and more. And we may find that global warming is heating new conflicts up to the boiling point.


James R. Lee runs American University's Inventory of Conflict and Environment project. He is at work on a book on climate change and conflict due out in August 2008 from Routledge

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Seward's Folly

William Seward was Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson. Seward proposed and led the U.S. effort to buy Alaska from Russia who sought to keep it out of the hands of Great Britain. These negotiations actually began during the administration of James Buchanan but were delayed due to the American Civil War.

There were questions about the purchase, especially the resources and the ability to populate the territory. The ratification vote was close and decided by only one vote. The value of the land was not really understood until the late 1890s when gold was found in the Klondike.

Consider the value of Alaska today. Oil has followed gold as an important resource, and the state is priceless in terms of value. What might be priceless in 2030 are underground seabed claims and unclaimed islands.

Claiming Arctic (and Antarctic lands) now may seem a far-off dream but these lands will grow in value over time. Like Seward’s Folly U.S. diplomatic effort should have a substantial focus on claiming Arctic areas as part of U.S. territorial integrity.

There are plenty of issues of concern to U.S. national interest. How many of them concern the territorial integrity of the county? There are five issues of concern to the United States.

a. Navigation rights: Are the Northwest and Northeast Passages (through Canada and Russia) international waters.

b. Offshore claims: What are the limits fo Alaska’s sea bed?

c. Island claims: Which bodies of territory are unclaimed?

d. Migration and Trans-migration: Many people will enter the U.S. in order to migrate even further north. This could be problematic for issues if crime and terrorism.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Climate Change and Cities: The Social Tension Factor

Climate Change, Social Tension, and Cities

New York Mayor Bloomberg plans to attend the upcoming U.N. climate change conference in Bali. “It’s time for America to re-establish its leadership on all issues of international importance, including climate change”, Bloomberg declared at a recent United States Conference of Mayors.


What is the link? The Kyoto protocol can also be ratified and signed/ratified by other governmental entities, including cities. In the United States, 600 cities have signed the agreement. New York is not a signatory, but many big and small cities have, including Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago.

Signing the agreement is one thing but doing something about it is something else. Cities’ first impulse will be to deal with or counteract the affects of climate change. This can only be partially successful since the enduring trends of climate change will become am increasingly greater tax on city services and operations. Some cities will see more climate change than others and result in a wide gamut of impacts.

Cities will be short sighted if they limit their response to solely counter-acting the change in climate. The change in climate will influence many areas of social policy, including economic development, community health, and social tension, among others.

Social tension may adversely affect economic development and community health by forcing transitions in lifestyles and occupant communities in neighborhoods. Migration impacts from suffering area of climate change will push trends while changes in eco-systems will pull them.

Urbanization of the world is fast proceeding and now, for the first time, more people live in cities than in the country. This trend in the United States and worldwide will tend to aggravate problems in city environments. Climate change will add its own weight to city concerns.

Jim Lee

Friday, October 19, 2007

Implications of U.K. Claims to Off Shore Antarctic Areas

The United Kingdom is claiming 385,000 square miles of seabed offshore of its existing land claim in Antarctica. The U.K. claims overlap those of Chile and Australia. Under Article 76 of the Law of the Sea Treaty, a country can claim mineral rights out to 350 nautical miles. The claim is contingent on proving that the continental shelf associated with the claim extends out into the sea.

The U.K. claim follows similar actions by Australia and New Zealand under the Law of the Sea treaty (UNCLOS). Under UNCLOS, countries have until 2009 to submit claims. The actions under UNCLOS either challenge or add to the protections of the Antarctic Treaty, depending on viewpoint. The 1959 Antarctic treating, and the codicil in 1991 regarding environmental protection, does not explicitly address off shore claims.

The claims include areas for possible oil and gas exploitation although technologies for extraction at such ocean depths do not currently exist. No doubt, they will exist at some point in the future.

The U.K. is also working on two other continental shelf claims around southern Atlantic territories: the Falklands and South Georgia Islands. The U.K. has, similar to Russia, sent a submersible to explore the deep-sea area around the continental shelf.

The claim and others that are sure to follow raise at least three key questions about the future of Antarctica in a period of high climate change.

1. Will all seven countries that claim land in Antarctica follow through with off shore claims?

Clearly yes. In fact, three of the seven will have now filed offshore claims. All of these countries will develop undersea vehicles for exploration in anticipation of the expiration of the Antarctic Treaty in 2042.

Brazil proposes delimiting claims using meridians that would give territories to Uruguay, Peru, and Ecuador.

2. Will countries that have claimed islands in the zone also act to secure offshore rights?

The action by the United Kingdom virtually assures this. The Antarctic Treaty area covers out to 60 degrees South parallel. This area includes the Orcadas or South Orkney Islands claimed by Argentina, King George Islands claimed by several countries, and Peter I Island, claimed by Norway. Peter I Island is the only non-sector claim under the treaty.

If countries claim offshore waters then it is possible that some claims from countries out to 50 degrees South parallel will also intrude on the Antarctic Zone. This group includes the Macquarie, Heard, and MacDonald Island (Australia), Campbell and Auckland Islands (New Zealand), the South Georgia and Sandwich Islands (like the Falklands, disputed between the United Kingdom and Argentina), and Bouvet Island (Norway).

Just outside this zone are French claims to Kerguelen Island and Iles Crozet and South African claims to Prince Edward Island.

3. How will countries who have signed the Antarctic Treaty, but do not claim land, react? Many reserve the right to claim lands in the future?

Consider the list of treaty adherents. Russia and the United States reserve the right to claim Antarctic territory. Other members may follow suit including China, India, and Japan who have economic interests. South and North Korea could continue their cold war in Antarctica. Papua New Guinea in 50 years might be a far different country

Climate change will do more than just raise the temperature. It will lead to a cascading of claims to new lands. This change, in both climate and the politics of it, is happening much faster than originally anticipated.

Jim Lee